It's easy for me to say from my computer chair, but the response of Sony and the rest of Hollywood to the terrorist hack and to the demand that Sony cancel the release of The Interview was weak and cowardly. Giving in to thuggish, censorious demands, even when backed by threats, is sad whether it's Muslims complaining about depictions of Mohammed or hackers threatening "another 9/11" (scarcely credible) or students demanding a speaker be disinvited or anything else. Sometimes it's understandable, but it's still sad. Movie theaters and their lawyers didn't want to be held responsible, in a court of law or the court of public opinion, for a shooting spree or other terrorist attack, so they played it safe. That's the story of this decade, it seems: everyone wants to avoid challenges, avoid risks, avoid controversy, avoid standing up for anything unpopular, sacrifice liberal Enlightenment principles to people's feelings, and accord a heckler's veto to any group that speaks loudly, threateningly, or sanctimoniously enough.
George Clooney stands against this trend, and he deserves heaps of praise for it. I knew there was good reason to like him outside of his characters and movies. Until now, I just had some vague sense that he was cool and likable in an old-fashioned Sean Connery/Gregory Peck kind of way. In an interview with Deadline.com, Clooney has given us much more substantive reason to admire him:
A good portion of the press abdicated its real duty. They played the fiddle while Rome burned. There was a real story going on. With just a little bit of work, you could have found out that it wasn’t just probably North Korea; it was North Korea. The Guardians Oof Peace is a phrase that Nixon used when he visited China. When asked why he was helping South Korea, he said it was because we are the Guardians of Peace. Here, we’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have. This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have. That’s the truth. What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it? Forget the hacking part of it. You have someone threaten to blow up buildings, and all of a sudden everybody has to bow down. ...
This was a dumb comedy that was about to come out. With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot. We have a responsibility to stand up against this. That’s not just Sony, but all of us, including my good friends in the press who have the responsibility to be asking themselves: What was important? What was the important story to be covering here? The hacking is terrible because of the damage they did to all those people. Their medical records, that is a horrible thing, their Social Security numbers. Then, to turn around and threaten to blow people up and kill people, and just by that threat alone we change what we do for a living, that’s the actual definition of terrorism.
Here’s the brilliant thing they did. You embarrass them first, so that no one gets on your side. After the Obama joke, no one was going to get on the side of Amy, and so suddenly, everyone ran for the hills. Look, I can’t make an excuse for that joke, it is what it is, a terrible mistake. Having said that, it was used as a weapon of fear, not only for everyone to disassociate themselves from Amy but also to feel the fear themselves. They know what they themselves have written in their emails, and they’re afraid.
Quite honestly, this would happen in any industry. I don’t know what the answer is, but what happened here is part of a much larger deal. A huge deal. And people are still talking about dumb emails. Understand what is going on right now, because the world just changed on your watch, and you weren’t even paying attention.
But to distribute, you’ve got to go to a studio, because they’re the ones that distribute movies. The truth is, you’re going to have a much harder time finding distribution now. And that’s a chilling effect. We should be in the position right now of going on offense with this. ... Stick it [The Interview] online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all fucking people.
Everybody is looking at this from self interest and they are right in this sense. I’m a movie theater and I say, “OK, there’s been a threat. Not really a credible threat, but there’s a threat, and my lawyers call and tell me, “Well, you run the movie and you could be liable.” And all the other movies around it are going to have their business hurt. I understand that, and it makes complete sense. But that’s where we really need to figure what the real response should be. I don’t know what that is yet. We should be talking about that and not pointing fingers at people right now. Right now, it’s not just our community but a lot of communities. We need to figure out, what are we going to do now—when we know the cyberattacks are real, and they’re state-sponsored.